|There was a billboard on the garage across the street. Advertising deals on a new condominium in downtown Chicago, it said, It would suck to miss this! The same could be said for Megabus, especially if you’re between buses.
The layover was not a boring one. As I stepped off the bus, I saw a police officer putting two sawhorses across Canal St. where it intersects Jackson Blvd., and saw people standing around on the sidewalk. I explored the inside of Union Station for awhile, which didn’t take too long, since many areas were restricted to Amtrak ticket-holders only.
Once back outside, I saw that the street was blocked because of the third annual XSport Fitness Rock-N-Roll Mini-Marathon. After hearing for years about the health-restoring power of running, whether jogging or all-out marathon racing, I become more and more committed to walking. I took some pictures (both still and video) during the race, and I guess running is the origin of the expression “No pain, no gain.” I watched the videos after I downloaded them onto the laptop, and almost everyone looks like they’re in agony.
Many people seem to be westbound this weekend. When it was time to continue the trip, Megabus had two buses at the ready. The Megabus coach was going straight to Kansas City, without taking on or dropping off any passengers anywhere else. They called in a charter (not a Megabus) to take passengers who were going to St. Louis, and it was a direct trip south on Interstate 55, except for a lunch break in McLean, a village just outside the Bloomington-Normal city limits
Mike Nevins met me at Union Station on Market St. in St. Louis, when my bus arrived–on time. He spoke about the condo where he will be living this fall. (His wife died this spring, and he is moving from their house into a condominium that would accommodate a childless widower much more practically.) Mike also presented me with a signed copy of Night and Fear, another posthumous collection of Cornell Woolrich’s short stories, which he edited and for which he wrote the introduction. He gave me a brief tour of the Delmar Loop, which is “One of the 10 Great Streets in America,” according to a 2007 report by the American Planning Association. I hadn’t been to the Delmar Loop since 1993, so it looked completely different than I remembered it. (I was relieved to see that Vintage Vinyl, where I spent plenty of money on my 1993 trip–on everything from Dave Brubeck to Pink Floyd to Bach’s Mass in B Minor–is still alive and well.)
My friend John has changed significantly since I last saw him in 2001. We met at a Unitarian youth conference, OPIK ’79, in August 1979 in Delton, Mich. (OPIK–rhymes with topic–was an acronym for Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kentucky, the states where most of the attendees lived. The reason the 1979 conference took place in Michigan is a long story I will not go into here.) I was 16 years old and full of piss and vinegar, and grateful to be away from my father, stepmother, and stepsisters, and meeting entirely new (to me) people. John and I picked each other, almost by default, in a workshop where you were supposed to pair off with someone you didn’t know previously. And we’ve been friends since.
John developed multiple sclerosis last year, and initially it was the relapsing and remitting variety, but now it seems to be more degenerative. He is in a wheelchair, and is living in a skilled care facility a few blocks south of the Delmar Loop. We caught up on our lives in the last decade, although we have filled the gaps by phone calls and correspondence–both by U.S. Mail and email–throughout. I knew about his deteriorating physical condition, and he knew about the end of my marriage and my new life as a single father. The place where he lives is more hospital than apartment, and he is grateful for chances to go out to physical therapy, doctor appointments, and visits with his family. It was a far cry from the spring of 1982, when he came to visit me in Marietta and spoke of wanting to see Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, who died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. He had learned in school that Martha, thanks to the art of taxidermy, was at the Smithsonian Institution.
“Why don’t we go see her?” I asked. I made a blizzard of phone calls, beginning with friends at the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Washington Office, and found some generous friends of friends² who let us sleep in the living room of their D St. NE rowhouse. The next morning, we marched out to U.S. 50 on the outskirts of Parkersburg and put out our thumbs. That night, John saw the Capitol dome for the first time.
Our last road trip was the last time I saw him, in November 2001. He, Rich, and I went down to Hodgenville, Kentucky and saw the site where Abraham Lincoln was born at Sinking Spring Farm. (John is like me: Both of us have been to where Lincoln was born, and where he was assassinated and the room where he died–he for the first time on our 1982 hitchhiking trip–but not to Springfield, where Lincoln is buried.)
I restrained myself and did not buy anything at Vintage Vinyl, mainly because I wasn’t sure how I’d transport LPs. As much as I love them, they are clumsy and would not fit in my backpack. I filled a few pages in my notebook with titles of albums that struck my fancy, and explored the Loop until I walked down to Skinker Blvd. and walked to the MetroLink stop there. (The MetroLink, St. Louis’ light-rail system, was not there during my previous visit.) I rode the train to Union Station, and found I had several hours to kill before the 1:15 a.m. departure of my Megabus to Columbus (again via Chicago). I decided to walk toward the Gateway Arch.
Even as I walked easterly toward the Arch, I was wondering how foolhardy this was. I was worried that downtown St. Louis would be deserted on a Sunday night, even a warm summer Sunday night, and walking alone with a knapsack would broadcast “out of towner” to any potential thief. For a block or so down Market St., I felt like a big red neon arrow was following me, but it turned out downtown was anything but deserted. I knew the Arch would not be open, and I have made two or three trips inside on its tram to the observation deck, but I wanted to see it at night and get a few pictures.
The second of Taylor Swift’s two Scottrade Center concerts was last night, and I had to thread my way through the blocks-long crowd of concertgoers who were leaving. Most of them were teenage girls, and younger, accompanied by their parents or other adults. I felt a lot better than I did during my 1992 trip, when I ran into the crowds leaving a Danzig concert at the American Theater. I saw quite a few kids ask their friends or parents to photograph them by Taylor Swift’s trucks, which were all decorated with the artwork from her current album, Speak Now.
A very small portion of the post-Taylor Swift crowd as they left the Scottrade Center. Many were behind me when I took this picture, and the crowd (and the cars) stretched far beyond my range of vision.
The Taylor Swift crowd was much better behaved than the crowd leaving Busch Stadium, where the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Colorado Rockies. I’m glad there was enough down time between the two that the groups did not cross paths.
I slept most of the way northward on I-55 on the return trip. I had seen the terrain during the trip the day before, and it was dark out, so there wasn’t much to see. During my Chicago layover, I was amused by the juxtaposition between all the white- and blue-collar people pouring out of buses and Union Station to head to their jobs, and the excruciating, though comparatively carefree, hurrying and rushing of the runners on Sunday morning.
Once the bus was southbound on Interstate 65 toward Indianapolis, the driver got on the speaker and told us that we’d be heading straight to Columbus after Indianapolis, which meant a straight shot east on I-70. I was pleased, because I knew that meant we’d pass through Henry County, where my stepmother’s parents lived after their retirement. (During our visit in 1978, I decided to hike from their house in Spiceland to New Castle, nearly eight miles north on Indiana State Road 3. I wasn’t feeling particularly energetic; I just wanted to get the hell away from everyone.)
The only diversion in the small town was watching teenage boys trying to puncture Spiceland’s water tower with their BB guns. I guess we all need a Sisyphean task to make life truly worthwhile. One time I actually heard a BB make contact with the water tower, and we all waited to hear the sound of water trickling. (The BB bounced against the metal and flew off, of course, but what did we know of ballistics?)
I told John this story at another Unitarian youth conference, this one in Western Pennsylvania. Years later, when he came to visit me in Columbus, he said he had a surprise for me. It was a picture of the Spiceland water tower that he had taken on a previous journey on I-70!